October 11, 2005

Police smash huge European people-smuggling ring

By Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - British police arrested seven people
suspected of leading one of Europe's largest human smuggling
rackets in a series of dawn raids on Tuesday.

Eleven others were held for related offences.

The arrests followed a two-year investigation into the ring
which smuggled illegal immigrants, predominantly from Turkey,
into London from mainland Europe. Police forces from five other
countries were also involved.

Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Skelly told Reuters the
scale of the problem was huge.

"Worldwide it's estimated that this is a business worth 8
billion pounds and for the UK it's estimated that it's as
significant as the trafficking of class A drugs," he said.

"It's something that we take very seriously."

Skelly described the people detained as being "at the very
top of the hierarchy ... operating as the heads of the network
and orchestrating it from here in London."

Of the 18 arrests, seven were held on suspicion of the
facilitation of human smuggling and two for interfering in the
inquiry. Six others were detained on suspicion of immigration
offences, one for money laundering and another two for theft.

Local media said some of the men were former asylum seekers
who had settled in Britain but police declined to comment.

Migrants using the system would have spent up to 5,000
pounds to be brought into the country hidden in containers and
lorries after a journey which could have taken months.

"You only have to cast your mind back to 2000 (to see the
risk)," Skelly said, referring to the discovery five years ago
at the southern port of Dover of 58 Chinese men and women who
had suffocated to death in a container.

The head of the Specialist Crime Directorate, Assistant
Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, described the ring as a "huge
organized criminal network."

London police said they had worked closely with their
counterparts in France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and
Belgium during the investigation.